The Joy and Madness of Writing a Sequel to Your Novel

What happens to the characters in a novel after the writer types The End? Usually nothing. The author is finished, happy to leave things where they landed and move on to another project.

Unless it’s part of a series. Then you have to figure out what follows happily—or unhappily—ever after. Does the marriage last? Does the adorable child turn into a troubled teen? Who cleans up the mess after the big party? How do they rebuild after the bomb explodes?

Write a series, the marketing gurus advise. You’ll get more readers and have built-in job security. But make sure each new book stands on its own. Okay, but how?

The bookstores are filled with beloved series from Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series and  Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes to Sue Grafton’s alphabet series and Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who …” series. We collect the volumes of Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, and Dune, or Jan Karon’s delightful Mitford stories about an Episcopal priest in a small town. We love revisiting our old friends in one book after another, but writing them is not as easy as you might think.

When I promised readers of Up Beaver Creek, published in 2016, that there would be a sequel, I had no idea how challenging it would be. I put it off for a couple years, then started writing the second book, working title Back to Beaver Creek, for National Novel Writing Month in 2019. I cranked out my 50,000 words, but I got lost along the way because I hadn’t taken time to think through the whole story before I started typing. Then life happened, and I didn’t finish it. I am determined to get it done this time, but sometimes I get very frustrated with the author I was when I wrote the first book.

Why did I say the initials P.D. stood for THAT? Why did I give her such a stupid car? Why did Rick behave the way he did? And what am I going to do with this other guy? Readers wanted romance, so now I have to find some. If you hear groans from my office, you’ll know what’s going on.

I am developing a great admiration for authors of book and TV series. The challenge is to remain consistent with what came before and find something for all of the characters to do or a way to get rid of them. I can’t change any of the names or identifying details. I can’t change PD’s job or the house she lives in without making it part of the new story. If her house didn’t have a fence before, it can’t have a fence now unless she builds one. I can’t change the voice, so I have to write this book in first person, present tense even though a big part of me wants to write in past tense this time. It’s a big jigsaw puzzle where you create the pieces and have to make them fit together. You can’t start sawing off the edges to force them into place. Readers who enjoyed the first book(s) will call you on it.

You should see my pile of notes, file cards, and clips, not to mention the bits and pieces on three different computers. But I love puzzles, and I love PD and her friends. After much stewing about it over the last few days, I think I’ve got the story figured out, and I think you’ll like it. But next time, instead of a musician, maybe PD ought to become a detective.

Check out these series by writer friends of mine: Susan Clayton-Goldner’s Detective Radhauser series and C. Hope Clark’s Edisto Island mysteries. So good.

Here’s some great advice on writing sequels:

https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/7-rules-writing-sequels

http://jennybravobooks.com/blog/writing-a-sequel

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I Thought I was Making This Stuff Up–Tsunami Novel Predicts COVID

It’s November, known to some of us as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Hordes of writers commit to writing 50,000 or more words of fiction between November 1 and Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words or the equivalent of about seven double-spaced pages every day, including weekends. I have started several times and pooped out, but in 2019, I spewed out more than 50,000 words for a sequel to my previous novel Up Beaver Creek. I didn’t finish the book. I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t quite go together. Then came COVID and a lot of other complications, including a nonfiction book that I did finish, so the sequel sat in a pile. Until now. This November I’m determined to pull it all together into a real novel. I’m not counting words. I find that doesn’t work for me. Sometimes an hour of thinking is more important than an hour of spewing random typing. But I am putting in the time.

I bring this up because one of the early chapters, written before any of us had heard the word COVID or had any inkling we’d find grocery store shelves empty of things like toilet paper and flour, turned out to be eerily prescient. In Up Beaver Creek, the long-predicted tsunami hit the Oregon coast, causing heavy damage and many deaths. Now we’re in the aftermath. Electricity is spotty, and supplies are low. When our heroine PD goes to the grocery store, this is what she finds. (No insult to J.C. Market, where I have been shopping for years. All is well there as far as I know, except they are missing a few items . . . )

The roar of a generator greets me as I get out of my car at the J.C. Market at 101 and Olive Street. Keeping the refrigerators and freezers going, I suppose. Since the Thanksgiving earthquake and tsunami, we have not had electricity, at least not that we could count on.

I open the door to dim lights and silence. No music coming through the speakers. Half the shelves are empty. Getting supplies is chancy these days. When something is in stock, we all want to grab a lot of it. But then somebody else would have to do without. We’re all learning to share. PD does not like sharing.

I pull out a cart, wincing at the noise as it separates from the others, and start down the vegetable aisle. Geez, not much there, hard to stay on my healthy-PD diet. Shriveled grapefruit, bruised apples, some artichokes I am sure have been there for a month. Pineapples, lumpy cantaloupes, potatoes, red onions, mushrooms someone probably gathered in the local forests—well, I could make something out of that. Meat? Brown-looking hamburger, questionable chicken, and a few whole salmon at $25 a pound. That’s the other thing. Prices are high. Supply and demand. When you really want an apple and you’re not sure you’ll see another one anytime soon, you’ll pay $4 for it.

Some enterprising folks have started braving the trip to less-damaged places in the Willamette Valley to pick up merchandise and sell it out of their trucks and car trunks. People line up to buy their wares. I’ve done it a time or two.

I toss a pound of ground beef and a sack of beans into the cart and hold my breath as I turn toward the paper aisle. Oh, thank God. TP. Not my favorite brand, just little four-packs of single ply, but hallelujah. $10? Whatever. At least I have a job to pay for it. Lots of people’s jobs got washed away with the tide.

It’s like that with everything. You can get something but not your favorite brand or flavor. Except for batteries. They haven’t had any of those in months.

And then she runs into a man who invites her to watch the sunrise with him . . .

Again, I had no idea a pandemic would hit us. I was just imagining what it would be like after a disaster. Who knew a whole different kind of tsunami was coming?

What do you think? Have you seen shortages where you shop? Do you expect things to get better or worse?

Have you read Up Beaver Creek? Books make good Christmas presents.

P.S. I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I tend to react badly. Wish me luck.

Writing Here, There and Everywhere

I’m back. Back home and back from my NaNoWriMo blog sabbatical in which I endeavored to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The annual National Novel Writing Month competition draws hundreds of thousands to compete in this madness, and many succeed.  https://www.cartridgepeople.com/info/blog/nanowrimo-statistics

I wrote 55,000 words. I’m not getting all the NaNoWriMo prizes because I divided my words between two different projects, a nonfiction book that’s still in its early days—17,023 words–and a sequel to my novel Up Beaver Creek—38,130. Add them together, and I’ve got 55,153. That does not count all the other stuff I wrote during the month, including journal entries, new poems, and posts at my Childless by Marriage blog. This word factory produces many products.

I don’t know why the competition takes place in November. It’s such a busy month. Why not pick January when we’re all revved up with New Year’s resolutions, there’s not much else happening (okay, yes, the Superbowl), and there are 31 days instead of 30?

This November was extra crazy. Of the 30 days, I spent 15 away from home. I drove approximately 2,000 miles, bringing my Honda Element up to 130,000 miles. My travels took me to the Portland Book Festival, Ellen Bass’s Fire and Ice poetry workshop in Scott’s Valley, California, a night in Santa Cruz and a day at Seacliff Beach where I spent much of my childhood.

I followed that with three days in Santa Clara writing, catching up with family, and saying goodbye to my childhood home, which has been cleaned out and sold. From Santa Clara, I drove to the outskirts of Yosemite for Thanksgiving with my brother’s family. When I left there on Saturday, because I-5 was blocked with snow, I had to take the long way home, extending my usual California-Oregon drive from 13 hours to 18, much of it in the rain.

Between trips, I prepared for installation of a gas fireplace and a propane tank at my house. I sold copies of my recently published chapbook Gravel Road Ahead and read the final proofs for the next chapbook, Widow at the Piano, which is coming out in March, took Annie to the vet and started giving her four different medicines every day for arthritis and an ear infection, and said goodbye to my job at Sacred Heart Church.

Through it all, I wrote. I had treated myself to a new laptop, a small ASUS with super-long battery life, so I could write wherever I was. I wrote on motel room beds and desks, in coffee shops, on my brother’s sofa in front of the TV, and in the commons at Oregon Coast Community College. I wrote sitting, standing and lying down. I wrote when I knew what I was going to say and when I didn’t, nudged by the counter at the NaNaWriMo website to reach my daily goal and keep the line on the graph going up.

I joined two of the NaNoWriMo write-ins at a new local cafe (Wolf Tree, near the college). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write with other people around, but it was great. We all focused on our own stories, taking bathroom and snack breaks as needed, and the words poured out.

But for the need to get dressed, I might do all of my writing in coffee shops. Or bars, depending on my mood.

As the end of the month neared, other writers started reporting on Facebook that they had “won” NaNoWriMo, reaching their 50,000-word goal. A week ago, I knew I wouldn’t meet that goal on my novel, although I would make it with both my projects combined. That’s okay. My 38,000 words is a lot of words. It’s 152 double-spaced pages, halfway to a completed novel. My protagonist PD and her friends have already gone through a lot, with more to come. I will keep going, although maybe not at the same breakneck pace. I will go back to taking Sundays off. I will let myself read fiction again. But this novel that was only a maybe, possibly, I’m-not-sure kind of thing is real now. And my other project has a good start.

I plan to do NaNoWriMo again. It’s exciting to write so much so quickly and with such great camaraderie as writers all over the world do the same thing. Not every novel written during NaNoWriMo gets published or even finished, but it’s fun to go into an imaginary world and let the words fly.

Anyone who writes fiction knows all the writing does not take place on the keyboard or the page. Your mind keeps working on story problems. Yesterday, while I was driving through the rain between Eureka and Crescent City, California, I suddenly had such a great idea I was shouting and banging the steering wheel. Yes! That’s perfect! That’s how PD is going to ID the bad guy. Of course! Other drivers might have suspected I drank more than orange juice and green tea with my breakfast.

Kudos to our regional NaNoWriMo leader Nikki Atkins, who finished her 50,000 way early while acting in two different plays at the local theater. For years, she has kept local writers inspired with her enthusiasm and support. How could anyone not succeed with Nikki cheering them on?

So I’m home. Back with Annie. Back at my desk. Back with a pile of receipts for all the money I spent. Back with 163 emails to read. Back facing the six pounds I gained this month eating at restaurants. Back hoping that today, finally, the work on my new gas fireplace and the propane tank outside will be completed, and we will have real heat.

But also back with the glow that comes from setting forth to write something good and succeeding.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was satisfying. Christmas is only three weeks from Wednesday! I’m not ready. Are you? Here’s a thought. Buy everyone on your gift list copies of Up Beaver Creek so they can be ready when the sequel comes out. Have a great week.

 

 

 

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